Two Israeli emergency workers take a prayer break during the coronavirus pandemic. (Daniel Carmon/Twitter) Daniel Carmon/Twitter
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Media coverage during the coronavirus crisis went from criticism of Israel at the beginning of the pandemic to outright praise and recognition of the Jewish state’s innovation and achievements.

By Yakir Benzion, United With Israel

Israel has scored some positive coverage in the international media, gaining positive reviews for the country’s handling of the coronavirus crisis, Israel Hayom reported Sunday.

An internal report by the Department of Public Diplomacy at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs showed that initial negative coverage of Israel’s tough response to the pandemic earlier this year has turned into outright praise. Among western countries, Israel has been at the forefront of the fight to stop the virus from spreading, instituting economically painful policies that restricted movement.

The report surveyed data from Israel’s embassies around the world. In the past weeks, coverage of Israel has undergone a transformation as death rates in other countries soared while Israel managed to keep its per-capita rate low.

Israel’s death toll was 230 as of Sunday, compared to thousands of dead in similarly populated countries like Belgium and Holland.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government was initially criticized when it was among the first to close borders to foreigners and shut down international travel and tourism. The country also came under fire for using surveillance programs that normally track terrorists to track coronavirus infections and for drafting thousands of IDF soldiers to help contain the spread of the infection.

A toughly enforced nationwide curfew on the opening night of Passover was viewed as draconian but prevented millions of Israelis from congregating together with families, which likely would have spread the virus like wildfire.

As the death tolls mounted in other countries, news articles about Israel began praising its policies that were shown to have saved lives.

“In the second stage, Israel was portrayed as a model of a country successfully coping with the medical crisis, precisely due to all the reasons for which it was previously criticized,” the report said.

As the crisis worsened, other countries copied Israel and closed their borders, and the government teamed with Israel’s El Al national airline to mount rescue missions and bring home thousands of Israelis stranded in foreign countries.

With the pandemic dominating news around the world, coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict dropped significantly – something that is beneficial to Israel, the report noted.

One key event that got wide coverage was the picture and story of the Magen David Adom ambulance crew taking a prayer break, with a crew member snapping a memorable photo of the Jewish and Muslim paramedics praying beside their ambulance before continuing their shift together.

“From a media representation standpoint, we can say the coronavirus was beneficial for Israel twice,” said Noam Katz, foreign ministry deputy director of media and public affairs. “The international discourse moved to the digital media, where Israel operates no less than 850 channels in different languages – such that we had a comfortable starting position.”

“Secondly, the coronavirus helped focus the discourse on Israel’s advantages, in science and high-tech, and also from the perspective of interfaith relations,” Katz told Israel Hayom.

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